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Losses leave Leafs with no margin for error

A losing streak, of any length, is the last thing the Toronto Maple Leafs need.

But after two poor performances in a row, the Leafs could be in tough against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday to avoid their first three-game losing streak since late January.

First overall in the Eastern Conference and second in the NHL despite a recent 2-5-1 slide, the Flyers are likely still smarting from a 3-2 loss to Toronto exactly a week ago, a game Philadelphia appeared to have in hand but let slip away in the final minutes of the third period.

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It's unlikely they will take the Leafs lightly again.

"You're going to probably be a little more respectful of [the Flyers]or afraid of bad stuff happening if you don't bring your A game," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.

While Philadelphia has designs on a return to the Stanley Cup final, the Leafs are in a dogfight to stay in the playoff picture, sitting four points out of the final spot before Wednesday's games.

After a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, Toronto likely needs to win 10 or 11 of its final 15 games to make the postseason, meaning difficult games such as Thursday's can't be written off.

And the Flyers have a considerable advantage in their ability to fill the net.

Philadelphia has been one of the NHL's highest-scoring teams all season and boasts 11 players with 25 or more points. Toronto, meanwhile, is 25th in goal production and gets most of its offence from its top four scorers.

The Leafs' biggest concern on that front has been the power play, which is also ranked 25th overall. Toronto hasn't scored on the man advantage since Feb. 26 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and is converting at less than 11 per cent since Tomas Kaberle was dealt to the Boston Bruins nine games ago.

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Singling out just one reason why the power play isn't working isn't easy, although personnel is a significant part of the problem.

For one, the Leafs' top goal scorer, Phil Kessel, has always been more of an even-strength point producer who generates his scoring chances off the rush. The 19 power-play points he has this season are a career high but are only tied for 36th in the NHL.

Meanwhile, both Kaberle and Kris Versteeg, who was dealt to the Flyers last month, were key cogs on the man advantage and still rank first and fourth in power-play points for the Leafs weeks after moving on.

Kaberle and Versteeg played the point on the top power-play unit much of the year, and in their absence, it has mainly been captain Dion Phaneuf taking on the role. A dominant power-play quarterback when he entered the league, Phaneuf has struggled in the role in Toronto, going from more than 30 power-play points in each of his first three seasons to just eight in 51 games this year.

Because of their recent lack of success, Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur said he senses there's now a little panic whenever the power-play units take the ice.

"I just think there's such an urgency to put it to the net so quick," MacArthur said. "It's just not necessary. You have two minutes to work with. I mean, if you have guys in front, then by all means, if you can get the puck through, shoot it."

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"I think confidence is a huge thing," said centre Tyler Bozak, who has only nine power-play points this season despite playing more than three minutes a game in that role. "It seems like when we get on the power play, we don't play with as much grit and intensity as we do 5-on-5.

"We're going to have to get back to that."

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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